OTHER VOICES: ‘Build Back Better’ falters under its own weight | Opinion
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Media coverage of the debate over “Build Back Better”, the social policy and the $ 1.75 trillion climate plan of President Joe Biden currently stranded in Congress, has focused so much on legislative strategy and the political drama between Biden and Senator Joe Manchin that the most crucial element – what the package would actually do – got lost in the noise.
In a nutshell, it would bring America in line with most advanced countries in terms of policies that improve the lives of families with children, while also addressing the existential threat to humanity posed by global warming. Among the provisions of the bill already adopted by the House are family leave benefits, the extension of the tax credit for childcare, universal preschool, tax incentives for electric vehicles and solar panels, rental assistance, drug cost reduction, and Medicare and Medicaid expansion.
But that cornucopia of strong progressive goals in the bill is, ultimately, its weakness. The many unrelated ornaments hanging from this one-measure Christmas tree threaten to tip it over. This newspaper strongly supported the essential elements of the legislation, in particular the initiatives favorable to the family and the climate. But it has become clear that charging Santa with these disparate political issues with the goal of bringing them all down the chimney at the same time has in fact hampered the delivery of these crucial gifts to America.
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This is again a strategic issue, and we will come back to it. But first, it’s worth considering what’s at stake.
Families and Children: The program provides four weeks of paid leave for workers who are ill, caring for sick family members or are new parents. America is today one of the few advanced countries in the world that does not offer paid family and sick leave.
The package would maintain the improved child tax credit from $ 250 to $ 300 per child that was included in this year’s pandemic relief plan and is expected to expire next week. It would limit childcare costs for families with children under 6 to no more than 7% of income for low and middle incomes, by subsidizing care for around 20 million children. It would extend free preschool to 3- and 4-year-olds. It would extend free school meals to nearly 9 million children who are not currently eligible and provide summer food benefits to another 29 million.
Healthcare: The measure would maintain existing improved benefits under the Affordable Care Act, which will otherwise expire at the end of next year, affecting medical insurance coverage for more than 3 million Americans. This would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, thereby lowering prescription costs. It would add Medicare hearing aid coverage, improve Medicaid home care services, and limit insulin costs for people with diabetes to $ 35 per month.
Environment and climate: Legislation would invest hundreds of billions in clean energy initiatives. It would provide families with up to $ 12,500 for the purchase of electric vehicles, along with other incentives for the purchase of home solar panels. It would pay utilities to increase their renewable energy supply – and fine those that don’t.
Other arrangements: According to Biden’s proposal, billions of new dollars would be spent on low-income housing, rent and down payment assistance, expanding Pell grants for students, anti-housing programs. community violence and more.
The Democratic-controlled House passed its version of the package last month, but it is stuck in the Senate, where Democrats have a slim majority and cannot afford to lose even a single Democratic vote. The situation (not for the first time) put enormous power in the hands of Manchin, the centrist Democrat from West Virginia, who was negotiating with the Biden administration to reduce what he saw as too expensive a bill. Negotiations collapsed last week, perhaps damning the whole measure.
As frustrating as it may be that a senator can wield as much power over a measure as the majority party wants, that is the reality of the American political system. Those who support the initiatives might more constructively direct their anger at the self-defeating way the bill has been marketed.
The price has changed, but has generally been described as close to $ 2 trillion. However, that’s a deceptively high number because it spans a decade, and it’s paid for (or mostly paid for, depending on who’s doing the analysis) by tax hikes on corporations and the wealthy. Even the Congressional Budget Office, whose numbers are more pessimistic than Biden’s, puts the actual addition to the deficit at less than $ 370 billion in total over 10 years.
Yet this phrase of “$ 2 trillion” continues to emerge as the focal point of the debate, providing a big target for Republican opponents. In addition, linking so many different issues inevitably makes it easier for opponents to justify their opposition.
Since one of Biden’s Build Back Better programs is still recoverable, it may be best to recover it in smaller, more politically digestible pieces. This would present smaller price tags as targets and force opponents to debate each idea on its merits. The merits are numerous.